Country diary: A walled garden that lived, died and lives again | Heritage

Through a ruined doorway in the wall, behind the birdsong of Maytide, there is a fragile silence of broken things and the green light of woods coming closer. The ruins of Llanforda, just north of Oswestry, are the remains of an estate first built and planted in the 17th century. In 1640, it was described as having walks, pleasure gardens, and a wilderness and fountain to rival any grand garden in the county.

During the 18th and 19th centuries the garden and parkland was further developed in the grand manner of a Shropshire country house, but in 1940, Llanforda Hall was demolished. Local legend has it that an obsession for plants and gardening made the estate go bust.

Something of that all-consuming passion still haunts this place and is felt in the plants themselves. A once-manicured hornbeam hedge, now liberated, has thrown out arching boughs to form a tunnel. Ferns festoon piles of bricks. Once cordon and espalier pear trees lean against garden walls. Roots grapple with tumbled masonry. Silted fishponds flash white with water starwort flowers. Precious trees are besieged by sallow and laurel.

In the experiments with plantings (to compare what was possible to grow here in the Marches with London), the seeds of the garden’s own destruction were sown. Llandforda is what happens after the novel about the rise and fall of its creators has ended. The characters, the plot and its setting are scattered, and the place has absorbed what remains of the story. It is not just that this story is fragile; the language to tell it is weak.

Without those human dramas of ambition, privilege, love and death, the narrative is undone by more-than-human forces: weather, time and the ecological power of life. Words such as “abandoned” and “derelict” seem wrong now. The occupation has been replaced by the green genius of this place with a language of its own. It can be heard in the great oaks that have survived centuries; in the peacock butterfly that overwinters in the stones; in bluebells, nettles and wrens. Once familiar, now mythical, the view through the walled garden doorway shows where our obsessions end and magical life begins.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *